Key Grip Jobs
Have you ever noticed how many different camera angles there are in a high-speed Hollywood chase scene – forward, back, left, right, from the air. Being able to see a chase from so many perspectives makes movies entertaining. But how does Hollywood do it? They hire a key grip.
Key grips are responsible for lifting, moving, carrying, transporting, rigging, operating, building, and placing production equipment where it needs to be. They take orders from the director of photography and supervise a crew of grips and best boys. They are a mix of carpenter, electrician, rigger, and mechanic. Key grips are some of the people behind the scenes that make showbiz function.
Every movie production, television station, and concert hall employs key grips. Key grips ensure that all the equipment is in the right place. They may need to get a camera to move along a track to film a marathon, build scaffolding to put a microphone in a tree, or place a light to cast a sinister shadow. If it involves moving production equipment it’s the key grip and his crew hard at work.
Key grips can find work anywhere that filming takes place. They may film a chick flick in New York City or an action film in China. They usually can plan on working at any and all hours – it depends on the film. But they can plan on long hours and hectic schedules.
Most of the time key grips live under the motto – hurry up and wait. Key grips may have lots of down time, then all of the sudden the scene changes and its utter chaos. At a moments notice they move to set up camera cars, cranes, tracks, dollies, microphones, set walls, lights, tripods, rigging, or scaffolding for the shot.
When a key grip shows up on a new set he checks in with the cinematographer and the directory of photography. The key grip works with the chief lighting technician, or gaffer. Together they map and plan where cameras and lights will go for every scene. Often during a scene they have to improvise to get the perfect shadows or angle. If the scene is challenging, they figure out how to accomplish the filming goals.
Key grips work on production sets because they love filmmaking. They get to tinker with equipment and solve filming problems. They need to be physically fit and safety conscious. A successful key grip is going to always have a good attitude and if something needs to be done, they are going to make it happen. Most key grips go to film school and then start to learn from experience on small productions and low budget films before they hit Hollywood.
To get started working in film, check with different film commissions to see who is filming in the area.
If the thrill of working behind the scenes is a rush, plan to move to Los Angeles or New York. Once there be sure to join a union to ensure success and guarantee wages.
On average, a key grip will make $37,000 per year. It’s not unheard of for a big Hollywood key grip to make between $80,000 and $100,000 per year, but the work is inconsistent. If there is no filming, there is no work.
Working as a key grip is fun. There is no other job where you will have to put a camera inside a tomato cart, strap a camera to a strut of a buzzing helicopter, or use a light to brighten a roulette table. Key grips get paid for creative manual labor, plus they get their names lost in the credits of every production.
Quick Facts About Grip Work
Job Title: Key grip
Office: Film sets
Description: Supervise grip crews to mount, move, and construct movie rigging
Certifications/Education: No formal education required
Necessary Skills: Physically fit, Carpentry skills, Rigging skills, Electrical skills
Potential Employers: Movie Production Companies, Television stations and networks, Theaters Dance companies, Concert halls
Pay: $37,000 per year, can make up to $100,000 for big Hollywood hits
International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees
The Grip Book by Michael G. Uva